Planning a project may appear overwhelming when you’re new to project planning. Where do you even start? All you have is a vague directive from someone up the corporate ladder, a nominal budget, and a deadline for when it must be complete. Plus, you are expected to fit this into your normal day-to-day job, of which “project management” is not in the job description.
This is the stuff nightmares are made of.
Well, there is no need to lose sleep over how to plan a project. It really is a matter of asking the right questions and assembling the right amount of documentation around the answers to get your project moving forward.
The following seven questions are a great project planning checklist:
1. Who is Involved?
The first question you need to know the answer to is who is involved? Is this a pet project for one of the executives of your company or is this something that a client has asked to be complete? Assemble a list of who these people are, their respective roles, and their level of involvement in the project. This will serve as a directory of who to go to when questions or issues arise. It will also identify the project sponsor who is endorsing or backing up this project. You want to maintain a close working relationship with the project sponsor and keep the lines of communication open.
2. Why is this Important?
Next, you want to ask the project sponsor (identified above) why this project is important. Is it a project that will generate revenue for the company? Is it a project that will reduce expense? Or, it may be an entirely different reason why this project is important to implement and complete. Having an understanding of what is driving this project will help you be able to make decisions that may come up along the way.
3. Will I Have the Authority to do This?
There is nothing more frustrating than having accountability and responsibility without the commensurate level of authority you need to get the job done. You need to have a level of comfort that you will have access to the necessary resources and budgets to complete the project at hand. In formal project management planning, this would be accomplished by means of a document called the Project Charter. This is a document that provides the authority assigned to the project manager to ensure the project can be complete.
Asking and obtaining answers to the three questions above are the foundational steps you will need to start your project off on the right foot. At this point, you haven’t even really talked about the project itself other than understanding who is involved, why it’s important, and receiving confirmation that you will have access to what you need in order to get the job done.
Now comes the fun part when it comes to how to plan a project.
4. What Needs to be Done?
This is the question where you get everyone in the same room and ask them what needs to be done. What is the goal that everyone wants to achieve? What will the final project look like and how will everyone know when it is complete? Carefully capturing these requirements and statements will serve as the basis for understanding if something needs to be built, re purposed, purchased or any variation thereof. In formal project management planning, the result of this would be a Requirements Document that typically would be put together by a business analyst.
5. How Will This be Done?
Now that everyone understands what needs to be done to consider the project a success, you need to bring in the experts as to how it will be done. There are many roads that lead to the same place and some may take longer than others. If you have identified the proper subject matter experts from question #1 above, you can rely upon them to show you the best path to take. This question would typically result in the creation of a scope, or solution document that specifically details how the project will be implemented and what project planning tools can be applied.
6. Who Will Do This?
With the “what” and “how” questions answered, the next question is “who?” The way you get the answer to this question is to take the deliverables that were defined in Question 5 and break them down into steps that can be assigned to a particular person. For example, let’s say the project was to complete a new website for the company. You identified in Question 5 that you will need to have a Web Design, Web Host, Content, and Web Development. You determined that the content for the pages will need to come from someone in the Marketing department. Voila’. You now have a name associated with the activity and can move on to the final question.
7. How Long will this Take?
You now simply go to the resource you have identified to complete the task at hand and ask them how long they think they will need. Hopefully, this fits into the schedule established at the outset, and you schedule this into your project plan. If not, you can always come to some type of agreement of what would be a reasonable amount of time to get the job done.
That’s it…a simple way of planning a project even if you have never planned a project before by asking 7 questions and following the project planning steps. You can make this as formal or informal a process as necessary. It may be something that you can put together yourself, or, it may require input from a large number of people depending upon the complexity of the project.
Just remember to not lose sight of the big picture and why the project was important to start with (Question 2). By keeping this project planning guide in mind, you will be able to not get bogged down in meaningless details and strong personalities that can quickly derail your project with minutiae. By staying focused and maintaining clarity around the questions above you’ll soon find yourself running one successful project after another.
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